Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate because I represent the constituents of Surrey North and we have been plagued with a number of violent crimes involving mass murderers. Clifford Olson was one that haunted our neighbourhood as well. It is very fortunate that I have this opportunity to express my point of view.
The previous speaker made reference to the fact of our inability to read the Criminal Code, but he on the other hand pointed out that in this particular bill the application is not made to a judge but to the community. If he would like to read section 745(1) he will find that it is indeed made to a chief justice.
Another point that the previous speaker made was in relation to the Bernardo case and allowing the judges to have some flexibility in the sentencing from the point of view of whether or not to grant parole. My understanding in reading this bill would be that regardless of what a judge would say at that particular time, he could say no parole, but 15 or 25 years later, whatever the magic number is, another procedure would occur in which that person could make application for eligibility which means the previous judge's decision could be overruled. I do not know if that is the answer or not.
There are two points I would like to make in relation to this bill. One is the content itself. That would relate to the fact that it is designed to set up some sort of a screening process in which it would not allow everyone the opportunity to make application for parole and that would be heard. It might reduce some of the time the courts have to spend on this as well. With the mechanism for the screening process that is set up, I tend to think there may be undue influence on the jury or the subsequent aspects of the process.
Basically what seems to be happening is a prisoner will make application to a chief justice who will look at that individual's situation. I believe that clause 1(2) contains the kinds of things the judge will look at. It would include the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole, his conduct while serving the sentence, the character of the applicant and the nature of the offence.
It would be logical to assume that as we have had a heavy emphasis on rehabilitation in the prison system for the last 20 years, a criteria that might be written into the act as well is his participation in rehabilitation programs and his progress in those same programs. I am deviating a little bit.
My point here is that the judge is looking at that criteria in relation to the application to decide whether or not the application can proceed to a designated judge in a province and a jury and the case be made for parole. I suggest that only those cases the judge in his wisdom thinks may get parole would actually go into the process of being assessed for parole. All others would not.
One of the arguments used for not having victim impact statements in court was that it could influence the jury. I argue that this is the same principle. A learned person in law has moved certain cases forward. I would tend to think that a layman type jury could be influenced that indeed these people would be eligible for parole. On the other hand they may not but there is a possibility that would happen. Therefore, I believe there may be undue influence by using this method of screening.
Another point which should be made concerns the discussion we had on section 745 a year ago. At that time there were some token changes. The debate at that time described the fact that we felt these were half-way measures or token changes. Here we are again looking at the same thing and taking it one step further.
I tend to question why we have to go back to a similar sort of issue. Two reasons occur in my mind. One is that the government was not prepared to deal with the situation in its entirety a year ago, to address the problem and put it to bed. The other may be that we are witnessing some sort of phase-in by the government of some kind of activity that is not necessarily popular to the masses.
I suggest that when we, as citizens, elect a government we expect it to lead and that leadership should be directed at preserving the society to which the majority of the citizens have agreed. I do not really think the government is aware that the majority of citizens do not agree with this step in the process. We cannot have this kind of step. It has to be an either-or. Either we have this application that we go directly to a jury or we do not have it at all.
Our position is that we do not have it at all. Let us stick with that first judge and jury that assessed those people and made the decision that they were going to go to jail for 15 years. It also provides a sense of leadership to the citizens that they cannot play around with the system and take chances. They must think about their actions before they do them because they will be responsible. If a person kills someone it will be 25 years in jail, no ifs, ands or buts. That might deter a few people. We have those who it will not but I am certain our percentages would drop down.
Right now it is almost like a game of roulette. One takes a chance, gets a good lawyer and might get off.
We are defeating a number of principles when we bring in this screening process. There is no half-way measure but that seems to be the trend that we have experienced in the last three years. We do not seem to get to the solution. We only get half-way there. In some cases we do not even get half way there. We then bring it up again.
I would like to suggest that it is possibly coming up again because after it came up a year ago the government realized that the move it made then was certainly not one that the Canadian public was happy about. I do not know whether we are trying to correct that now or whether we are witnessing an attempt to phase in something over a period of time that the Canadian people do not want. However, if we spread the time out far enough they will not even notice. It will come in very insidiously and suddenly it is there.
I have a lot of problems with this. The screening mechanism used from a control point of view or as some sort of an evaluation, time saving or whatever the rationale is for it, will not achieve what it is designed to achieve. Basically what will happen is that a judge somewhere, who is looking in depth into this application for a presence in front of a judge and jury, will be duplication. What the judge goes over, the jury will also go over. I strongly suggest that instead of screening it will intimidate or influence the jury based on the fact that the judge has some knowledge in the area we are dealing with.
Comment has been made about faint hope for prisoners sentenced to 25 years that something can happen in 15. By allowing parole it is faint hope for victims and their families that justice will be carried out.